Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jason watches THE SOCIAL NETWORK

And yes, the critics are pretty much right, it's a great movie. Intriguing, well told, interesting characters. I think they go too far when they call it the modern CITIZEN KANE or the movie of the generation, but maybe that just means I'm old.

What really intrigues me is all the chatter about how it slams Mark Zuckerberg (excellently played by Jesse Eisenberg). Yeah, he's shown as flawed--arrogant, a little misogynistic (but hardly the biggest misogynist in the movie), obsessive--but ultimately he's very sympathetic (please tell me I'm not the only one who sympathized with him). In a movie where everyone has flaws, he's actually relatively grounded. He's smart, but is interested more in doing something cool that changes the world rather than making a ton of money (ironic, then, that he becomes the world's youngest billionaire). He has a few beers, but isn't the party animal (that would be Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and ultimately the devil on Zuckerberg's shoulder). He starts off by making Facemash--a sexist site where people can rank the hotness of Harvard women (he makes it in one night, while drunk, while blogging, while hurt that his girlfriend dumped him for being an elitist). But in the end that comes off more as an impressive (though hurtful) college prank. Hell, in my college years rather than doing anything that cool I just burned shit. Ultimately, his tragic flaw (if you can even call his life a tragedy) is that he's smarter than everyone and not afraid to show his disdain for other's intelligence. In a telling scene, he's staring out the window during a deposition and mentions "it's raining." The opposing counsel is irate, and tries to call him out for not giving the proceedings the proper attention. He responds in an eviscerating monologue telling them exactly how little attention he feels the proceedings deserve. Sure, he comes off as a total jerk, but one who is also right. All the more impressive that he's right using only (by his estimate) the bare minimum of the required attention.

The narrative plays out against two separate lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg, and both are revealing about different aspects of his character and rise to power. In the first, the twin Winklevoss brothers--rich Harvard jocks who rule the social scene (they're in a house he wants to get into) and eventually represent the U.S.A. in Olympic rowing--accuse him of ripping off their idea for Harvard Connections to create Facebook. It seems pretty clear he didn't--Facebook (or TheFacebook.com, as it was first known) was much more, and he never re-used any of their code. At the same time, it's pretty clear he jerked them around by promising he'd do coding work for them while he was really beating them to the punch with TheFacebook. In this case, it's pretty clear that he's in the right. And it's kind of a sad ending when his lawyer convinces him to settle because no matter how right he is he'll come off as a jerk to a jury. And maybe that scene is what makes this the movie that describes this generation. He has created a world for himself (not just Facebook, but the entire world he lives in) where being right makes him king, and being likable means nothing. But back in the real world--which still at least sometimes plays by the rules of the previous generation--being likable is everything and even if you're right you lose if you're not popular.

In the second lawsuit, he's actually sued by his best friend and co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Eduardo was a business major, the CFO of TheFacebook, and provided the original seed money to get it off the ground. He started with a 30% share, but when more "angel" investors joined his shares were diluted to a fraction of a percent (and his name taken off the masthead as co-founder). This one feels like the real tragedy, that it's not about money but about Zuckerberg losing his one real friend because they had a disagreement over where to take the company (Eduardo was lining up advertisers early on, and the argument was that would've made Facebook "uncool" and killed it off before it really got rolling. Sean Parker is implied as instrumental in forcing Eduardo out). In the end, this lawsuit was settled for undisclosed terms, but Eduardo's name was returned to the masthead as co-founder. I like to think that the resolution left Mark and Eduardo patching up their differences and remaining friends. Zuckerberg is consistently portrayed as someone who doesn't care about money, and I was left convinced that this friendship--as battered as it was--really is still more important.

I should stress that I am critiquing the character of Mark Zuckerber in the movie, not the real Zuckerberg. That's simply all I have to work on. From what I've heard from people who've met him, the real Zuckerberg is not like that at all.

I will say that I also have sympathy for reviewers who have attacked the movie for its misogyny. I was likewise struck by how little there was for female characters (and yes, his counsel in the end is a female, but a small role). I didn't get a good sense if this was a reflection of the filmmakers (doubtful given Sorkin's previous work, possible for Fincher--I thought FIGHT CLUB was similarly male-centric to the point of misogyny) or if it was an intentional reflection on the attitudes of the characters. It's possibly even a commentary on the chauvinistic social...network that Zuckerberg was trying to get into in Harvard. And in that interpretation, the fact that he not only has a female lawyer but he actually thanks her in the end for all her work is perhaps telling of the arc of his character. That in the end, he has let go of the misogyny and contemplates how he has created something far greater than the elitist, sexist clubs he wanted to get into so long ago--something great, something so egalitarian that a billionaire can use it to check on the status of the girl who broke his heart years ago and started the whole story.

Running Time: 120 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,869
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